02/05/2004 1:00AM

Put Me In appears a filly on the rise


NEW ORLEANS - The filly still was by her mother's side when Mary Lou Heleringer purchased her, her dam Toyaholic, and the unborn foal Toyaholic was carrying for $5,000.

The filly also was a bargain: a $300,000 yearling by A.P. Indy, whose stud fee is listed as that same figure.

One came from down low, the other from on high. But this is not class warfare. The important question now is which horse will run faster Saturday in the $60,000 Pan Zareta Handicap, a six-furlong stakes race at Fair Grounds.

And even correctly answering that question may not land a winner. Also entered in the Pan Zareta was Distinctive Code, a flop on grass the last time she ran, but one of the better filly sprinters in the Midwest the last couple of seasons.

Heleringer died shortly before Put Me In won the Leggio Memorial Handicap here Jan. 18, the best race of her career. Because Put Me In cost so little, trainer Merrill Scherer started her off in a maiden-claiming race. She won that race by more than five lengths, then won her next three while facing allowance horses. Heleringer had stumbled upon a racehorse.

Put Me In seemed to lose luster later last year, but Scherer tapped deeper and found more talent the last couple months at Fair Grounds. Put Me In's 4 1/2-length victory in the Leggio was a powerful performance, and Scherer has seen no sign of decline.

"For some reason or other, she came out of her last race better than usual," said Scherer, who takes Put Me In's schedule race by race because of nagging physical issues. "She's training excellent. She really seems to love the wet surface.

"She galloped really well in the mud [Thursday] morning. If I didn't think she was doing well enough, I'd have waited for a race in March."

Handpainted hasn't raced since May, and made only two starts last year at age 3. At 2, she was one of the top fillies in Canada, and there has never been any question of her raw talent. Handpainted has worked strongly for this comeback race, including an outstanding six furlongs in 1:13.20 here Jan. 24.

Distinctive Code also has worked well for the Pan Zareta, and her trainer, Larry Robideaux, expects a rebound from a sixth-place finish on turf here Dec. 6. Distinctive Code is 2 for 4 at Fair Grounds, with a good win in the $100,000 Victoria Lass last season.